I was supposed to enter a novel writing competition last month, but I didn’t. It had been a goal of mine since late March/early April to submit a polished draft of my story to the competition.
But I didn’t do it in the end. Why not? Was the story rubbish? No. Then what was the problem?
Let me take you back to March, possibly April. I’d been working on an outline for a new story since mid-February, and it was time for me to start thinking about setting a completion deadline. I’ve spoken previously—in my blog post, Setting Story Deadlines—about how important it is to set realistic and specific deadlines so that you have a good chance of meeting them.
Whilst browsing online, I stumbled across Pitch Wars, a novel writing competition. Deadline: August 27- 29. No ifs. No buts. If it wasn’t in by then, you couldn’t enter.
I read the competition criteria, liked what I’d read, and decided to make that deadline my deadline. Could I complete two or three drafts of the story, have it critiqued, and then write another draft before August 27th?
It seemed incredibly tight, especially since I hadn’t come close to finishing the first draft of anything in years. I’d made some pretty vague deadlines in the past, and I needed something that I could stick to, that wouldn’t change, that I couldn’t get out off. And so I went for it.
I got to work—writing my plan, rewriting it, starting the first chapter, the first scene…
I reached June, and I was nowhere close to having a polished version of my story. I hadn’t even completed the first draft yet.
So what did I do?
My goal changed. Instead of having a well-revised story ready for the deadline, I decided that I just needed to get the first draft written. You see, over the last few years, I’d fallen into a rut where I wasn’t able to finish anything I’d started. I needed to break the spell. I needed to finish this draft.
August came—the 22nd, actually—and I’d finished. I’d completed the second draft of my story. Brilliant. What next? Competition time!
A little voice at the back of my mind piped up, one that had been on holiday during those crazy months of writing.
It’s great you’ve completed that draft, but you can’t enter the competition with the story as it is.
I reflected on that for a few minutes before forcing the voice back on vacation. I was going to enter.
I spent the rest of the week polishing my sample chapters.
August 26th came, and the little voice returned. It was louder this time.
You can’t enter the competition. Sure, you have four good chapters, but what about the rest? You haven’t even read it the whole way through. Not to mention, but I will anyway, that nobody else has seen it. Give it up.
This time, I couldn’t ignore the voice. It was correct. I wasn’t ready. During those hectic writing months, I’d gotten so caught up in just finishing the thing that I hadn’t allowed myself to even think much about entering the competition. If I had let doubt seep into my mind, then the deadline would have become redundant, and I most likely would not have completed writing the second draft in time.
So, I’d failed. I’d failed my goal.
And I was back at square one, wasn’t I?
I’d definitely not achieved my goal of entering the competition. That cannot be refuted, but was I back where I’d started?
I’d finished the second draft of a novel. Something I hadn’t done for a long while, and better yet, I actually still wanted to work on it! I was still excited by the project.
Although I hadn’t made as much progress as I would have liked to, I definitely wasn’t back at square one. Square one was quitting halfway through the first draft. Square one was spending up to a year on an outline.
This wasn’t that. It wasn’t a “when you wish upon a star” type of progress, but I had progressed nonetheless.
I could live with progress.
What do you think?